discipleship, Dorothy L. Sayers, dying to self, experience, faith, following Jesus, freedom, God, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther, T.A. Sparks, the cross, the dark night of the soul, the dark night of the spirit, the Kingdom of God, thought life
As I thought about describing the difference between our life inside and outside of God, I thought I could share my own experiences with you on here. Just for clarification, I do not speak about the experience of Christ IN us, that is, about feeling his love, joy and peace merely from the inside. Rather, I refer to a life IN God and His kingdom as a completely new experience that approaches us from the outside by simultaneously filling us up from the inside, too. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it…? We might have received some foretaste of such a life beforehand when we all of a sudden were hit by an awareness of ‘I-do-not-know-what-it-is… but-it-is-wonderful’ as we were watching the sun rise or going down, when we saw nature unfolding its beauty in springtime or fall, or when we shared some self-forgetfulness of any kind, be that with children who played peacefully in a sort of innocence that could almost be “touched” or when we felt a very deep and unconditional love for someone who had treated us badly.
It was only yesterday as I was on another prayer walk out in the woods with much pain in my heart as I suddenly felt nudged to stand still and look. Before me there was a deeply green meadow with an almost invisible path that led uphill. Above there was a wonderful blue sky with some soft white clouds. The darker green fir trees on the right completed the lovely picture. Some of you might know that I love walking or biking and that I take some pictures whenever I get the chance to do so. But yesterday it was different. I was not sure whether what I saw there was truly as beautiful as I perceived it and so I continued on my walk. It was only about one or two minutes later as I decided to go back and to try to take a pic, though. But OH… the beauty I had seen before there was completely gone!! There was a normal meadow, a path, and the sky… Quite boring, indeed. Nothing else that would have been worth mentioning.
Life IN Christ and in the Kingdom of God means that we can see Him in all things around us and that we permanently perceive Him in our hearts as well. It is a really new life since all that was death and separation from God in us has been killed by the power of His Spirit. Just as I recently shared this quote by Dorothy L. Sayers here, I too have my difficulties to really describe what the Kingdom of God is about. But lately I had a few experiences that were quite enlightening as to the difference between LIFE (in Christ) and DEATH (outside of Christ). As for the ‘death experience’, I do not want to go into details here. However, I want to admit that I had the most painful struggle in my life lately, my personal Gethsemane, so to say. Indeed, I saw no way out of my personal dilemma anymore and I knew I had to die to ALL of my plans of how my circumstances should turn out in the future. I do not speak of ‘peanuts’ here and I won’t moderate comments that try to cheer me up on a superficial level once again. Even more, comments are closed this time. Dear reader, I can tell you now that God can be trusted in every situation. However, in order to receive this faith and trust in Him, we must die to our old self nature completely. If there is only one thing or only one person in our life that is more important than Christ, we cannot be His disciples. Never!! That does not mean He does not love us or that He won’t save us, but we cannot obey Him perfectly as long as we feel forced to do someone’s will that contradicts God’s guidance for our life. We might remember what Jesus said about the cost of true discipleship (emphasis in italics mine).
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Lk 14:26-35 ESV)
Does it hurt to renounce everything we possess and everyone we love and whom we, most probably, put on pedestal before God in our lives? Yes, it does, dear brothers and sisters. It hurts so very much to offer up our life as a living sacrifice on the altar and to ask God to kill in us what is still against Him! We truly need to reach the end of our rope and of our own strength until we finally cry out to God, “I cannot do it, I cannot change my heart ever, but if necessary, please, change in me whatever is needed!!!” Just lately I was reminded time and again of a quote from Martin Luther that might help us find out whether God and Christ have the first place in our life or not. Luther said,
Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.
If we are still insecure about what that might mean, we need to only watch our thought life for a short time. Of who or of what are we thinking most of the time? Are we mostly concerned how others think about us and/or are we concerned about losing loved ones? With who do we want to be together… more than with God? An honest analysis will reveal our true heart condition.
In closing I want to present you another excerpt from T. Austin Sparks where he explained how the life a disciple of Christ should look like. Our works should only consist in the works that we see Him doing. Without having been freed by Jesus to really obey Him in every situation, we will never get there, I am afraid. T. Austin Sparks wrote,
We cannot take up work for Christ – plan, scheme, devise, organize or enter upon Christian enterprise – and so command the Divine seal and blessing. We cannot pray as we incline, even though it be to the extent of passion and tears, and so secure the Divine response. Failure to recognize this is bringing multitudes of people to despair because of no seal upon their ardent labours, and no answer to their prayers. In the unfolding of the laws of His own effective life the Master put tremendous emphasis upon the fact that the words that He spoke, and the works that He did, were not of (out from) Himself, it was the Father both speaking the words and doing the works.
A thorough study of the Gospel by John will convince that this was so. Said Christ, “The Son can do nothing out from himself, but what he seeth the Father doing…” and this knowledge of the transactions of the Father as to what, how, and when – all most important – was, as He made clear, because He abode in the Father. So for all the future of His work He prayed that His disciples might abide in Him. Thus the law of effective and fruitful life, service, prayer, etc., is that there shall be such a oneness that we only do – but surely do – what He is doing. We must know in our spirit just what Christ is doing, how He is doing it, the means which He will use, and His time for it. Moreover, our prayers must be the prayers of the Lord Himself prayed in us and through us by the Holy Spirit. This is surely made very clear as being the realm in which the Church in apostolic times lived. This will demand a considerable sifting of all undertakings in the name of Jesus, and will require that nothing is done until the mind of the Lord has been made known. But this will secure a hundred percent effectiveness, and issues which will never perish.
There may be much which looks like success and impresses with a sense of real accomplishment, but when “the fire” has done its work it may be found that the real as against the apparent is very small. In the long run “the flesh profiteth NOTHING,” though it may seem to get results.
It is not what is done for God, but what is done by God that will last. Ours it is to see that we are utterly in Christ, and living by the Spirit. All the rest will be spontaneous. There can be no abiding until there has been a real incorporation, and this brings us to where we can proceed to show how this union is effected.
Following Christ and having died on our personal cross finally means the end of all self-willed schemes. Then a really new life might begin…